"The Nazis killed tens of MILLIONS. They got a trial. Why? Because we're not like them. We're Americans. We roll different." – Me in an interview last week
Last week, President Obama fulfilled a campaign promise and killed Osama bin Laden. Well he didn't actually do the killing himself. It was carried out by a very brave and excellent team of Navy SEALs. Not only does Mr. Obama have the overwhelming support of the country, I think there are millions who gladly wish it could have been their finger on the gun that took out bin Laden.
When I heard the news a week ago Sunday, I immediately felt great. I felt relief. I thought of those who lost a loved one on 9/11. And I was glad we finally had a President who got something done. This is what I had to say on Twitter and elsewhere on the internet in that first hour or two:
I want to point out that Barack Obama took two years to do what Bush couldn't do in over seven. That's the difference between STUPID in charge and SMART in charge. STUPID pursues two reckless wars, lets OBL escape from Tora Bora, keeps looking for him in caves and invades the wrong country. He bankrupts us to the tune of $1.2 trillion for the Iraq War (it will eventually actually be over $3 trillion), and worse, he cost us the lives of almost 5,000 of our troops, not to mention hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan – and, after all that, he STILL couldn't bring the perp to justice. In fact, in 2005, Bush closed down the CIA station that was devoted to looking for bin Laden! What does SMART do? He sends in a small elite strike force, no troops are killed, and the perpetrator is stopped for good.
I was thrilled that the Osama bin Laden era was over. There was now an end to the madness.
Being near Ground Zero that night, I decided to head over there and join with others who saw this event as a chance to have some closure. On 9/11, Bill Weems, a good and decent man I knew and worked with (we had just recently completed a shoot together in Boston), was on the plane that was flown into the Twin Towers. I dedicated Fahrenheit 9/11, in part, to him.
But before leaving to go to the former World Trade Center site, I turned on the TV, and what I saw down at Ground Zero was not quiet relief and gratification that the culprit had been caught. Rather, I witnessed a frat boy-style party going on, complete with the shaking and spraying of champagne bottles over the crowd. I can completely understand people wanting to celebrate – like I said, I, too, was happy – but something didn't feel right. It's one thing to be happy that a criminal has been captured and dealt with. It's another thing to throw a kegger celebrating his death at the site where the remains of his victims are still occasionally found. Is that who we are? Is that what Jesus would do? Is that what Jefferson would do? I was reminded of the tale told to me as a kid, of God's angels singing with glee as the Red Sea came crashing back down on the Egyptians chasing the Israelites, drowning all of them. God rebuked them, saying, "The work of My hands is drowning in that sea – and you want to friggin' sing?" (or something like that).
I remember my parents telling me how, on the day it was announced that Hitler was dead, there was no rejoicing in the streets, just private relief and satisfaction. The real celebration came six days later at the announcement that the war in Europe was over. THAT'S what the people wanted to hear – not just the demise of one evil madman, but the end to all the killing.
When the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, people didn't pour into the streets to whoop it up. Yes, people were happy that it might help end the war, but there was not a public display of "Yippee! A hundred thousand Japs have been fried!" If they had done that, well, who could have blamed them after so many tens of thousands of their sons and fathers had been lost in the war (including my uncle, a paratrooper, killed by a sniper near Manila). But the sailor kissing the girl in Times Square was on August 14th, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered and the war was officially over. That's when America went crazy with joy – not over a killing, but over an announcement of peace.
We are a different people now, aren't we? Well, sorta. There was no bloodlust euphoria on the day Timothy McVeigh was executed. We were silent. The families of the Oklahoma City dead were silent, relieved. What is the difference between McVeigh and bin Laden, other than the number they slaughtered? I wonder. I think we know the answer.
Though bin Laden is dead, we are told that Orwell's Permanent War – the "War on Terror" – must continue! Not allowed to have our V-J day and run into Times Square with exhilaration! No, there could be terrorists there. So all we're left with is to cheer the death of one evil man, and that is supposed to make us feel powerful and good. There can be no celebration for the end of the Afghanistan War because the war isn't ending. The war must continue! Even though our own CIA tells us there are no more than a few dozen al Qaeda left in Afghanistan. We still have 100,000 troops there fighting a few dozen crazies? We say we're fighting the Taliban, too, but the Taliban are Afghan citizens, not an invading force, and, for better or worse, they seem to enjoy the support of many of the common people throughout Afghanistan. (If you don't believe that, ask any soldier who has served there and seen it. Every day is like Apocalypse Now. Poppies, anyone?)
Meanwhile, we – me, included – get lost in the weeds of how this one madman was killed. The official story from the Pentagon changed four times in the first four days! It went from OBL firing on the troops with one hand and using his wife as a human shield with the other, to, by the fourth day, not single person in the main house, including bin Laden, being armed when killed. Instantly, this created a lot of suspicion about what really happened, which itself was a distraction.
Here's my take: I know a number of Navy SEALs. In fact (and this is something I don't like to talk about publicly, for all the obvious reasons), I hire only ex-SEALs and ex-Special Forces guys to handle my own security (I'll let you pause a moment to appreciate that irony). These SEALs are trained to follow orders. I don't know what their orders were that night in Abbottabad, but it certainly looks like a job (and this is backed up in a piece in The Atlantic) where they were told to not bring bin Laden back alive. The SEALs are pros at what they do and they instantly took out every adult male (every potential threat) within a few minutes – but they also took care to not harm a single one of the nine children who were present. Pretty amazing. This wasn't some Rambo-style operation where they just went in guns blazing, spraying bullets. They acted swiftly and with expert precision. I'm telling you, these guys are so smart and so lethal, they could take you out with a piece of dental floss. (And in fact, one of my ex-SEAL guys showed me how to do that one night. Whoa.)
In a perfect world (yes, I would like to reside there someday, or at least next door to it, in Slightly Imperfect World), I would like the evildoers to be forced to stand trial in front of that world. I know a lot of people see no need for a trial for these bad guys (just hang 'em from the nearest tree!), and think trials are for sissies. "They're guilty, off with their heads!" Well, you see, that is the exact description of the Taliban/al Qaeda/Nazi justice system. I don't like their system. I like ours. And I don't want to be like them. In fact, the reason I like a good trial is that I like to show these bastards this is how it's done in a free country that believes in civilized justice. It's good for the rest of the world to see that, too. Sets a good example.
The other thing a trial does is, it establishes a very public and permanent historic record of the crimes against humanity. This is why we put the Nazis on trial in Nuremberg. We didn't do it for them. We did it for ourselves and for our grandchildren so that they would never forget these horrors and how they were committed. And we did it for the German people so they could see the evidence of what their elected leaders had done. Very helpful. Very necessary. Very powerful.
And for those who wanted blood back then – well, the majority of the Nazis all hanged in the end. So, it doesn't mean the bad guys get away – they still swing from the highest tree.
My own spiritual beliefs do not allow for capital punishment, and I was raised in the state (Michigan) that in the 1840s was the first government in the English-speaking world to outlaw it. So, I'm just not inclined that way. I don't believe in "an eye for an eye." I know the old book said that, but I like its sequel better (a rare case in which the sequel – like Godfather II, Star Trek II, Terminator II – is better than the original). If you don't believe the way I believe (it's also the official position of the Catholic Church, for whatever that's worth these days), then that's your right, and I understand.
Perhaps there was no way to bring him back alive – I sure as hell wouldn't want to be in that dark house trying to make that snap decision. But if the execution was ordered in advance, then I say we should be told that now, and we can like it or not like it.
For nine years I wrote and I said that Osama bin Laden was not hiding in a cave. I'm not a cave expert, I was just using my common sense. He was a multimillionaire crime boss (using religion as his cover), and those guys just don't live in caves. He had people killed under the guise of religion, and not many in the media bothered to explain that every time Osama referenced Islam, he wasn't really quoting Islam. Just because Osama said he was a "Muslim" didn't make it so. Yet he was called a Muslim by everyone. If a crazy person started running around mass-killing people, and he did so while wearing a Wal-Mart blazer and praising Wal-Mart, we wouldn't automatically call him a Wal-Mart leader or say that Wal-Mart was the philosophy behind his killings, would we?
Yet, we began to fear Muslims and round them up. We profiled people from Muslim nations at airports. We didn't profile multi-millionaires (in fact, they now have their own fast-track line to easily get through security, an oddity considering every murderer on 9/11 flew in first class). We didn't run headlines that said "Multi-Millionaire Behind the Mass Murder of 3,000" (although every word in that headline is true). You can say his wealth had nothing to do with 9/11, but the truth is, there is no way he could have kept Al Qaeda in business without having the millions he had.
Some believe that this was a "war" we were in with al Qaeda – and you don't do trials during war. It's thinking like this that makes me fear that, while bin Laden may be dead, he may have "won" the bigger battle. Let's be clear: There is no "war with al Qaeda." Wars are between nations. Al Qaeda was an organization of fanatics who committed crimes. That we elevated them to nation status – they loved it! It was great for their recruiting drive.
We did exactly what bin Laden said he wanted us to do: Give up our freedoms (like the freedom to be assumed innocent until proven guilty), engage our military in Muslim countries so that we will be hated by Muslims, and wipe ourselves out financially in doing so. Done, done and done, Osama. You had our number. You somehow knew we would eagerly give up our constitutional rights and become more like the authoritarian state you dreamed of. You knew we would exhaust our military and willingly go into more debt in eight years than we had accumulated in the previous 200 years combined.
Maybe you knew us so well because you were once one of our mercenaries, funded and armed by us via our friends in Pakistan to fight the other Evil Empire in the last battle of the Cold War. Only, when the killing stopped, the trained killer, our "Frankenstein," couldn't. The monster, you, would soon turn on us.
If we really want to send bin Laden not just to his death, but also to his defeat, may I suggest that we reverse all of that right now. End the wars, bring the troops home, make the rich pay for this mess, and restore our privacy and due process rights that used to distinguish us from any other country. Right now, our democracy looks like Singapore and our economy has gone desperately Greek.
I know it will be hard to turn the clock back to before 9/11 when all we had to worry about were candidates stealing elections. A multi-billion dollar industry has grown up around "homeland security" and the terror wars. These war profiteers will not want to give up their booty so easily. They will want to keep us in fear so they can keep raking it in. We will have to stop them. But first we must stop believing them.
Hideki Tojo killed my uncle and millions of Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos and a hundred thousand other Americans. He was the head of Japan, the Emperor's henchman, the man who was the architect of Pearl Harbor. When the American soldiers went to arrest him, he tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. The soldiers immediately worked on stopping his bleeding and rushed him to an army hospital where he was saved by our army doctors. He then had his day in court. It was a powerful exercise for the world to see. And on December 23, 1948, after he was found guilty, we hanged him. A killer of millions was forced to stand trial. A killer of 4,000 (counting the African embassies and USS Cole bombings) got double-tapped in his pajamas. Assuming it was possible to take him alive, I think his victims, the future, and the restoration of the American Way deserved better. That's all I'm saying.
Good riddance Osama.
Come back to your ways, my good ol' USA.